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What it's like to experience the internet

Mike Elgan | Aug. 15, 2016
The technology-using public now demands more than mere information. They want to feel like they're really there.

What do Snapchat stories, Pokémon Go, Facebook live video and virtual reality all have in common?

Two words: virtual experience.

In his book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (Amazon), author Kevin Kelly talks about the "internet of experiences," where the internet will increasingly become more about virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence-as-a-service, rather than the old "internet of information" that it's been since the beginning.

Kelly is right. His "internet of experiences" is inevitable. But why?

The reason is obvious: Information overload.

The first web site, which was created by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, was all about linking pages of information with other pages of information. Since then, just about everyone who produces information has gone online. Plus, there are billions of blog posts, social media messages, articles, podcasts, videos and more online. Bill Gates' 1994 groundbreaking Comdex speech was called "Information at your Fingertips." Google's mission was to "organize the world's information."

The boomers and Gen X-ers put a world of information at everyone's fingertips. But the millennials are opting out by demanding more experiences and less information.

It's clear that the online and tech-using culture has been moving away from information-based communication for years.

Social networking and messaging have evolved gradually in the past five years. Back in 2011, people wrote (and read) multi-paragraph length posts. Over the past five years, the sharing of and engagement on social networking posts have favored pictures, animated GIFs and text-and-picture memes over information-rich posts.

One way to look at it is that social interaction has gotten less "literate," moving from paragraphs to sentences to partial sentences to emojis.

But it's not really about "literacy," it's about escaping from information overload. Emojis require a kind of emoji literacy, but they communicate vaguely and ambiguously and prioritize feelings and emotions over facts and information. The rise of emojis is a symptom of the decline of information -- or at least, the rise of information avoidance.

The growing desire for less information has been accompanied by an increasing desire for more experience.

Here's where the public's growing obsession with "virtual experience" over information is already showing up on the internet.

'What it's like' headlines

Have you noticed the sudden rise in headlines that use the phrases "what it's like" or "how it feels"? Here are thousands of examples from Google News.

This headline trend, which used to be rare, is clearly an attempt to hook a public craving experience, rather than information.

Traditionally, a standard news story might start with the headline: "California Woman Loses Home to Wildfire." But the new headline style is: "What It's Like To Lose Your Home To A Wildfire."

 

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